N.Korea's Youth Becoming Disaffected

  • By Lee Yong-soo

    August 23, 2016 13:16

    North Korean teenagers are no longer filled with the patriotic spirit their leaders drum into them from the earliest age, and many compare their repressive country unfavorably to its more affluent neighbors and the West.

    Young North Korean defectors say the tendency is particularly conspicuous in the border towns with China, where people can easily get their hands on South Korean and Chinese TV shows and watch them clandestinely.

    Youngsters there often grumble about how much more beautiful South Korean and Chinese girls are -- presumably because they are better fed and have access to beauty products that their North Korean sisters can only dream of.

    Negative perceptions of their own country are even more marked among the children of party officials and other wealthy people, who have a little more information about the outside world, according to one government official here.

    Increasingly, the children of North Korean officials who are sent abroad refuse to come back, and their parents have to try and convince them that if they study hard they too may land a job in the Foreign Ministry and go abroad again. But it is a long shot, and the recent defection of the London embassy's No. 2 man shows that concerns for their children can outweigh loyalty to the regime.

    "Young North Koreans who lived abroad for many years have a tough time adjusting to life back in the North and end up ostracized or getting into trouble," says one businessman who has had dealings with North Korean trade representatives abroad.

    "I heard that North Korean parents have a lot of work preparing their children's return to the North."

    Parents not only have to train their kids to keep their mouths shut, but also save up money to bribe teachers to ensure that their children get into the top universities.

    A place at Kim Il-sung University costs them about US$10,000 and at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies about $4,000.

    Again and again, elite defectors tell South Korean interviewers that they decided to leave when they realized that their children have no future in the North.

    The regime is alarmed and has increased crackdowns on morale-sapping foreign media and bolstered ideological training, but to little effect.

    "The disillusionment and discontent felt by North Korean teens is by now too strong to suppress," one source says.

    A crackdown in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province in February of this year led to the arrests of around a dozen teens for watching foreign media. They were sent to reeducation camps, and their parents were sent into internal exile.

    But watching foreign media is a status symbol among youngsters, and those who have never done so are seen as dorks.

    The fears of the regime are reflected in recent propaganda for teens in the border area. Published by the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League, the four pamphlets exhort teens to be wary of CDs, USB sticks and radios from the "enemy" and warn them not to copy its fashions and hairstyles.

    On Friday, a massive rally of the Socialist Youth League is planned in Pyongyang, the first one in 23 years. Attendants have been handpicked since last month, and 50,000 are to be mobilized for a torchlit march.

    But the youngsters are exhausted from constant demands for extracurricular activities in support of their leaders, and the event is just making things worse, according to an intelligence official here.

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